The grip of the commissar

    As the full faith and credit of the United States continues to hang in the balance, the reality-averse House Republican ideologues are slated today to waste valuable time banging their sandbox pails and passing a “balanced budget amendment” that is already DOA.There’s no need to dwell on the details, since this purported U.S Constitution provision is little more than partisan theater; suffice it to say that such a measure – essentially requiring that revenues equal spending in any budget year – would have killed America in its cradle. The Revolutionary War and Civil War were fought successfully only because the government was free to navigate on rivers of red ink. In the words of Scott Galupo, a former staff aide to John Boehner, the balanced budget amendment idea is “quite simply, insane.” Nevertheless, the House ideologues will go forth to indulge themselves and feel good about it. Fortunately, the Democratic Senate and White House will swiftly squash the purely symbolic measure and remind Republicans that, with the Aug. 2 default doomsday fast approaching, it is time for all grownups to come to the aid of their country. Who knows, maybe even some of the tea-party extremists might heed the call.Of course, if they did heed the call, they would risk incurring the wrath of their backstage ideological commissar. That would be Beltway lobbyist Grover Norquist, who, as I have noted here on several occasions, is arguably the most powerful conservative activist in the land; in fact, given his iron grip on the Capitol Hill Republicans, it’s not a stretch to suggest that he’s the guy most responsible for driving us to the precipice of default. Norquist has bound virtually every Republican to his blood oath – by his count, 235 House Republicans and 41 Senate Republicans have signed a pledge to never raise any taxes for any reason – and that’s indeed a pity, because no sane economic expert believes we can substantively slash the deficit without some new revenues in the mix. This does not concern Norquist, however. I caught his act last night on Hardball, and he barely uttered a syllable about the financial cataclysms of a credit default. He has only one issue, and one absolutist stance on that issue. Nothing else matters.”I am glad that taxes will not be raised under any circumstances,” he told Chris Matthews, sounding as if a final deal had already been forged. Matthews naturally became very very hyper – nothing new there, of course, but, in this instance, the host was fully justified. He repeatedly asked whether Norquist was willing to take full responsibility for using his lockstep pledge to enforce the Republicans’ intransigence and thus drive America to the brink of financial crisis. And Norquist repeatedly refused to answer the question.In one typical exchange, Matthews asked, “You’re going to say, ‘I’m holding my people, and they better not budge because I, Grover Norquist, said so’?”And Norquist replied: “Actually Chris, the American people said so.”There it was again, the patently phony canard about how “the American people” supposedly refuse to accept any tax hikes in a deficit-reduction/debt-ceiling deal. Over and over, Grover chanted this as a Truth. Yet virtually every respected opinion survey since last winter has reported that “the American people” will accept such a deal – and today we have the new CBS News poll, which reports that 66 percent of Americans indeed want a deal with both spending cuts and tax hikes (President Obama’s position), and that even 55 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of tea-partyers want it, too. And whereas Obama’s handling of the debt crisis isn’t wowing the public (43 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove), he’s in the stratosphere when compared to the congressional Republicans. Only 21 percent of Americans approve of their behavior during this crisis; 71 percent do not.But true-believers like Norquist are impervious to that kind of empiricism. They either ignore what “the American people” really want, or, cocooned within their ideology, they simply don’t care. He and his cowed congressional followers have been successful thus far in sustaining their death grip, and we’ll soon see how hard they are willing to squeeze. In the meantime, however, we can content ourselves with a verdict on Norquist rendered in print today by center-right columnist David Brooks – who clearly intended it as a warning to the Republican party:Norquist “has been instrumental in every recent GOP setback. He was a Newt Gingrich strategist in the 1990s, a major Jack Abramoff companion in the 2000s and he enforced the no-compromise orthodoxy that binds the party today. Norquist is the Zelig of Republican catastrophe. His method is always the same. He enforces rigid ultimatums that make governance, or even thinking, impossible.”But Zelig, at least, was ubiquitously funny. As we careen closer to the cliff, the blind rigidity of the ideologues is no laughing matter.

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    Meanwhile, the Murdochs, father and son, are testifying publicly today in the British Parliament. My favorite line thus far comes from James. Referring to the burgeoning hack-and-bribery scandal, he said: “These actions do not live up to the standards that our company aspires to everywhere around the world.”

    A paean to “standards,” from one of the overlords of Fox News.

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